January 31, 2014

Letter: Obama Library resources too valuable to turn down

In last weekend’s editorial “Obama library is a compromise not worth making (1/17/14), Andrew Young expresses concern that bringing the Obama presidential library to Hyde Park would be a mistake—one that would endanger the University’s “principles of free inquiry and critical analysis”—because many documents in the museum would be selectively chosen by the library staff to paint the President in the most flattering light possible. While there is indeed a certain amount of “window dressing” by presidents hoping to protect their legacy, this does not mean that they are trying to “rewrite history.” Young references the fact that the George W. Bush Library does not place his opposition to gay marriage front and center, but ignores the fact that the Johnson Library has a substantial exhibit on the Vietnam War and the Nixon Library has recordings of the Watergate tapes available for public consumption. Rather than compromising the ideals of the University, we have the opportunity to help bring the same ideals of open discourse and objectivity to the presidential library, and hopefully work with the library to maximize both free inquiry and preservation of his legacy.

And why should the library go anywhere else? Hyde Park is one of the most logical places to place the presidential library. We are a premier research university, with an extensive library system and some of the brightest minds in the world. Hyde Park itself is the home of President Obama, where he worked as a professor at the law school while serving in the state senate, and the neighborhood remained his home when he ran for the U.S. Senate and then the presidency. His two daughters attended the University Lab School, Michelle Obama was the associate dean of student services and was the vice president for community and external affairs at the University Medical Center. His former economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, is a professor at the Booth School; his campaign manager, David Axelrod, founded the Institute of Politics; and his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is the 55th mayor of Chicago. The story of Obama’s presidency began here—why should anywhere else get to tell the story?

The library itself would be a treasure trove of material for students of all sorts. Documents pertaining to the Affordable Care Act, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and other signature legislation; correspondence charting the administration’s change of stance on same-sex marriage; and records from organizing one of the most powerful campaign apparatuses of all time would be both fascinating and illuminating, while serving as a bountiful resource for both students and professors. To turn down such a valuable source of knowledge based upon fears that it would somehow forever tarnish the reputation of our University would be irrational. Should we not try to get information from any source possible? Is the education we have received here insufficient to allow students to differentiate from fact or fiction? If so, then we have far bigger problems than the potential for bias in the presidential library.

—Nathaniel Rossum, Class of 2015